How I set up Sara Miller London and what it’s really like to start your own business
What’s it really like to start your own business? A pipe dream many of us talk about, but at the age of 31 I decided I was actually, really going to actually do it. I quit my job as a greeting card designer after 10 years in the industry and decided to set up Sara Miller London. I had a vision - a design led brand for a woman who loves colour and print, who wants to be surprised with her accessories, who celebrates the fun of life and friendship, and shopping. I imagined our customer to be someone who enjoys tea and cake and travel, a person who always looks for the silver (or pink!) lining no matter the situation and who wants to stand out from a crowd. I hope this is what has brought you to us.
And so we started as a team of two, myself and a junior designer, mocking up designs and pitching them out to brands, licensors and even exhibiting at trade fairs. It’s fair to say that right from the start I couldn’t believe how positive the response was, and each step of the way, seeing our products sell out and hearing the amazing feedback has been a wonderful experience. Hearing all of this has given me the confidence to keep building, keep growing and to believe in my vision of where Sara Miller London could grow. As the saying goes - if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life. I feel incredibly fortunate to say that this is truly how I feel about running my own business.
So here we are, 2.5 years down the line with a team of 8, 20 award nominations under our belt, a range of nearly 600 products a brand new website and now a snazzy blog to go with it! We’ve recently welcomed a new member to the Sara Miller London family as I have just had my first baby and we’re working up some incredibly exciting new collections for 2019. I hope this blog will become a place for you to learn about what inspires us, to bring colour and print into your life, home (and wardrobe!) to travel the world - even if only from the comfort of your sofa. As we love to say in the studio - embellish at every opportunity.
Welcome to the world of Sara Miller London…
PS. I often get asked questions about my designs, where my inspiration comes from and how our products are made. I hope you’ll find the interview below an insight into our business and my creative thinking. The team and I would always love to hear from you. If you want to get in touch email us firstname.lastname@example.org
1. What drew you to a career in design?
For as long as I can remember I’ve always loved drawing. When I was very little I would spend hours creating pictures and later at school I designed programme covers for the school play. My mum thought that all little girls just loved drawing, but when my sister came along she realised that it was just me! I went on to do art all the way through school and later I started to enjoy getting creative with textiles. My degree was in Surface Pattern Design which was basically print design for all surfaces, so it’s very relevant to what I do today.
2. How did you get your first break?
My break was probably getting a job as a designer at Hallmark cards. I learnt a lot there. I graduated from uni aware that the first bit of work experience I got would be the hardest - but also the most important. That would be my stepping stone for what I did next. So I phoned around a lot of textile design studios and got a placement in New York at a fashion print design studio. I went out there for a few months and started creating prints for them which were shown to customers across the high street. I remember being delighted to sell my first print to Liz Claiborne – looking back it was a great experience. I came back to London where I continued designing for a fashion print studio, I remember selling work to Miss Selfridge and months later being ecstatic seeing someone wearing a dress with my print on the tube! I built up a portfolio of designs which led to my job at Hallmark. There I worked as a designer drawing and manipulating this on the computer. I worked on lots of different ranges for clients like Clintons, Next and Disney, and I gained a really broad range of experience that pushed me forward.
3. How would you describe your style?
I have always loved print, pattern and colour. It’s been my biggest constant and it’s no surprise that it’s what Sara Miller London is all about. While what I wear is often quite neutral (and I actually wear a lot of black), in my mind everything is so full of colour. There are certain palettes I am drawn to – but then I’ll add a twist with an accent, something unpredictable. Unusual colour combinations like fuchsia and green just really appeal to me. They make a design unique. Contrasting textures can also create a lot of warmth – without using a lot of colour – and then colour can be added in a smaller way. I love velvet and raw silk in strong jewel tones, but then contrasting it with something a lot more raw like a linen, something more earthy. I find the juxtaposition quite interesting.
4. Where do you look for inspiration?
My travels - in particular India and Japan. In Rajasthan, absolutely everything I saw was decorated – from their doorways to their buses and their saris. It was all so full of embellishment, detail and vibrant colour. From the arched doorways in the Agra fort, to the contrast of the Pink Palace against the grey of the surrounding streets, and the incredible carved detail and intricate lattice work on the palace itself. I was in awe of the attention to detail and craftsmanship everywhere. There’s an incredible hustle and bustle in India. Then my husband Phil and I travelled to Kyoto in Autumn 2015 and the views there were just really spectacular, especially at this time of year with the Autumnal tones. I find the fluidity in Japanese art very beautiful and back home I spent a lot of time at the V&A studying those collections. It was a visual feast absorbing it all, then translating that inspiration to create the Sara Miller London collections you now see.
5. Most important lessons you've learnt starting your own business?
Talk to people and ask for their advice, even if you don’t want to hear it! I also learned quickly that starting your own business means you’ve got to do it all - including all the bits you don’t enjoy. It’s just part of the package of working for yourself. You can NEVER work too hard. There is always more to do and there will never be enough hours in the day to get everything done. But it’s very important to also stop, breath and enjoy the moment.
6. What are you working on next?
We are currently working on next years collections. From greeting cards to dressing table accessories and luggage, it’s incredibly varied, no two days in our studio are the same.